It’s been two weeks since my last blog entry which, while not exactly a record for inactivity, is surely too long. I’m too busy to write a full entry today but I feel compelled to write a brief status update to tide over anyone who for some reason cares about what I’m doing/saying/thinking.
Item! I’m suffering withdrawal after the premature end to the baseball season in Minnesota. That said, my pain is eased considerably by the Rangers’ handy defeat of the Yankees in the ALCS, and by the success of my favored San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.
Item! Oh, man. The MacBook Air. I couldn’t resist the impulse to buy the 11-inch model this weekend, and I absolutely love it. More on that in a future post.
Item! I’m hoping to review another coffeehouse this week, as it’s been way too long.
Item! If random, bullet point-length updates from me are something you enjoy, be sure to check me out on Twitter for all of the latest trivialities.
In my first installment, I discussed the experience of getting Windows 7 up and running on my MacBook. In short, other than the extreme headaches of spending three hours of my Thursday afternoon on a fruitless quest for assistance from Microsoft’s telephone technical support, and a lack of reasonable explanation for the seemingly arbitrary solution to my problem once I did discover it (something so common with Microsoft’s software that I scarcely question it anymore), the overall process went pretty smoothly. Windows 7 is without a doubt the most polished OS Microsoft has ever delivered. And, dare I say it, I actually think it has the most attractive GUI of any OS out there. Yes, I like its looks better than Mac OS X — if only because it actually has some personality, whereas Apple deliberately makes its OS as unobtrusive as possible — and it looks way better than the diarrhea color scheme and ugly Verdana knockoff font of the default theme on Ubuntu Linux.
That said, it’s still Windows, and as soon as you scratch the dazzling glassy Aero surface (which runs just fine on my MacBook, by the way, despite Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor claiming otherwise), you find the same old Windows tools. Or, more specifically, several generations of them. There are tabbed panels that look like Windows NT 4.0 with a fresh, glossy coat of paint. There are Windows 2000-era quasi-website interfaces. And so on and so on — remnants of every past ill-considered usability “streamlining” concept Microsoft has entertained.
This is ultimately the biggest downfall of Windows 7 — the legacy of earlier, poorer versions of the OS that Microsoft just can’t shake off. They’re trying hard to take this OS into the future, but they’re too shackled to their past, even with fading support for older applications.
I’ve been using Windows 7, not as my main OS, but fairly frequently, over the past few days. I’ve grabbed a number of freeware applications that will allow me to do my essential work within Windows 7, when necessary — Firefox, Safari and Chrome for browser testing; iTunes so I can listen to music (yeah, I could use Windows Media Player, but iTunes came as part of the Apple Software Update); Notepad++ for code editing; the GIMP for image editing; and FileZilla for FTP. I may grab OpenOffice too… but I think WordPad will probably suffice if I need to edit any documents. I’m not really going to be making Windows my main environment, but with this set of tools I can get by in it without having to reboot into Mac OS X, just in case some actual work comes my way while I’m tinkering around with Microsoft’s new operating system. (Yes, ultimately at this point it’s really just a toy for me. I could have bought a new Nintendo DS Lite, but I decided to buy Windows 7 instead.)
There are little quirks that take getting used to — the feel of the keyboard and mouse is slightly different; I have to remember to press the Ctrl key instead of the Command key; widgets are gadgets, etc. Ultimately, my biggest complaint about Windows is what I hinted at above with the legacy of different window interfaces all coexisting: Microsoft is too beholden to its past, and to the many players to whom it has to appeal. For all its weight in the software industry, Microsoft has a surprising lack of control over, or cohesive vision for, its products. Windows 7 has a very nice layer of polish on its surface, and the adventurous designs are refreshingly appealing in comparison to Apple’s vanilla interfaces. But below the surface layer, Windows still has a severe case of multiple personality disorder.
This is the first time I’ve ever seen a performance of 4’33”. It’s a polarizing work, to be sure. You love it or you hate it. Or maybe you get it or you don’t. Or you get it, but you still don’t really get it. Or you do really get it that, really, there’s nothing to get.
Personally, I think it has merit on multiple levels: it forces you to stop and observe your surroundings in a way few of us do these days; artistically, it’s one logical extreme of the various avant-garde movements of the 20th century; it cultivates proper concert hall decorum; and, if you choose to see it this way, it’s a brilliant piece of comic absurdism. The fact that it’s performed in three movements, with the requisite pauses (and opportunities for the audience to cough, adjust themselves in their seats, rustle programs, etc.), is the key to this last perspective. If it were just the performers sitting up there staring blankly for four-and-a-half minutes, who cares? But it’s three distinct movements of nothing, separated by more nothing (of a much different kind).
There’s something deeper to it though. As any serious student of music will tell you, the silence is just as important as the notes. To put it more simply, silence is music, just as much as sound is. So as I said earlier, this is the logical conclusion of a particular strain of 20th century music — the mirror image of the kind of free-form cacophony that was also being practiced at the time. Whether Cage intended this piece as a critique of that movement, a part of it, or otherwise, is a topic best left to the scholars who’ve studied Cage more than I have. Ultimately, I just think it’s a cool idea. Somebody had to do it eventually.